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Photos by Joselynn Cortes/Wave Studios NYC
Photos by Joselynn Cortes/Wave Studios NYC
The Highwater is a new cocktail bar that opened on Broadway in Astoria.

The Highwater — the latest cocktail bar to grace Astoria’s Broadway strip — is an oasis of summer lifestyle as the weather gets chillier. Much like clothes on the hottest of summer days, any scrap of pretension is stripped away in favor of fantastic drinks, amazing food and an inviting atmosphere. Before I could even take my coat off and get my notebook out, I was offered a seat at the bar and a cocktail. That’s hospitality.

Never one to say no to a seat and a drink, I happily accepted. That’s just smart.

With a surfer vibe interior that would be just as at home at Rockaway Beach as it is on Broadway, The Highwater drips with both familiarity and novelty, and co-owner George Spilke says that’s entirely the point. He wants to create a neighborhood hangout where people can be exposed to new things in a setting that feels right at home — a “new experience that feels familiar,” in his words.

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Before I could press Spilke for what he meant by that, my first cocktail of the evening arrived: bourbon, montenegro, ginger syrup, lemon juice and strawberry in a glass smoked with hickory wood aptly named the Chuck Norris. It was a smoky, sweet number with a pickled ginger garnish that went down dangerously smoothly.

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It was bar manager Gabriel Colom-Rocha who clarified their mission. To him, creating a cocktail menu that pushes people’s boundaries is more important than serving up a new take on something you’ve had a hundred times before. After all, why have yet another bloody mary when you could discover a new brunch favorite altogether?

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And that’s how The Highwater began: a group of friends aspiring to create something accessible, but completely new, come hell or high water.

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My next drink was personally recommended by self-described “OG waitress” Bianca Rodriguez: Riker’s Riot, a cocktail that came about by accident but hits your tastebuds with a purpose. Cucumber-infused rum mixes with a delightful citrusy syrup in a creamy splash of summer, and it was born when someone on staff mistakenly put rum in a drink that was supposed to have gin in it.

But hey, it works, and I wouldn’t have gotten to try it if I had come in wanting more of the same.

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Happy though I was to keep drinking whatever they put in front of me, I knew I had to eat something at some point, and started asking after their dinner menu. Their winter menu should have hit tables by the printing of this article (I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for the seafood hot pot), but to get me started, they brought out two all-season dishes: chili edamame and taro fries, a french fry made from an Asian root vegetable called the taro. The edamame was lovely, but it was the taro fries that stood out to me — soft yet still possessing the crunchy exterior characteristic of a well-fried fry. Be sure to try them with the sriracha aioli.

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The taro fries are an excellent example of what The Highwater team is trying to do: something new presented in a familiar way. While they want to maintain a boutique, specialized vibe, they want it to be accessible to eaters of all stripes at the same time: omnivores, vegans and the gluten-free alike. Keeping standards high while attempting to create a welcome atmosphere for everyone is key — even the well whiskey is good damn whiskey.

The Gen X, a cocktail with vodka, lime juice, pomegranate liqueur and flower liqueur and garnished with a mint leaf, came out while I thought about the next dish to try. Much like the tall copper martini glass it came out in, the drink’s light citrusy feel elevated the mood and my appetite. I picked two all-season mainstays off the menu: a pork belly taco and a fish taco.

I love pork belly, and this taco didn’t disappoint. It was savory and tender with smoky notes, and the sriracha aioli reappeared here to really shine.

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The fish taco, made with whitefish breaded with panko crumbs and a secret seasoning, was a new twist on fish tacos for me. Chef Dionne’s fine dining resume mixes with his love of comfort (previously, the chef was at Per Se and BarBacon in Manhattan) and really shines through with these tacos.

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Poke was out next, a small tower of seaweed, avocado, pineapple, tuna and ginger garnished with a completely edible flower. Sweet, tender and flavorful, this was a step above the lunchtime poke bowls dotting Midtown. Everything on the menu is designed to be shared — a tapas approach without the overtly Spanish influence — and the poke was no exception. Spilke and Colom-Rocha helped themselves to a forkful of the poke as we talked.

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Eating at The Highwater is all about sharing the experience of eating together. There are no televisions or touchscreens, and everything is designed to keep you focused on the moment at hand, rather than distracting you from it. Don’t come here to watch the game over a plate of wings. However, if football Sundays are more about the wings than the games for you, The HIghwater has a dish you need to try: the chicken karage (“car-ee-ah-gee”), boneless, breaded chicken marinated in a secret recipe, fried and served with a side of the sriracha aioli.

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Last for the night was a hanger steak with mashed taro. Basted in a citrus soy ginger marinade, glazed with balsamic and paired with the wasabi aioli, this steak almost fell apart before it made it to my mouth. It’s shareable, all right — if it lasts long enough for someone else to grab a piece.

Beyond being shareable, though, The Highwater’s menu makes an effort to encourage you to play around. Have you ever gone out with friends and ordered a few appetizers so everyone could try a little of everything? Eating at The Highwater is like that — don’t come here to eat one good thing. Come here to try four awesome things.

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As I started to wrap up, Colom-Rocha insisted I try a new drink coming out with the winter menu, the Red Rooster. It’s like a boulevardier with a twist: Campari, bourbon and a big rind of orange. I can tell it’ll warm many a cold winter night in the coming months.

As fall turns to winter, keep an eye out for a few dishes still to come on the menu. The steak will have a new marinade and come out with sizzling onions; there’ll be special broccoli and bok choy dishes; sliders will make an appearance; and bottomless brunch is only a couple months away.

Look, too, for sidewalk seating to arrive in the warmer months. While certainly a welcome addition to any neighborhood bistro, it’ll be especially inviting in The Highwater’s corner front wraparound space.

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